Politics & Government

Carolinas delegates welcome Bush's speech

Even the Republican faithful realized that President Bush wasn't going to do John McCain many favors Tuesday night.

After being bumped on the convention's opening night because of Hurricane Gustav – a move some Republican operatives quietly applauded – Bush resurfaced Tuesday to give a speech by way of satellite.

And many Carolinas delegates welcomed it.

“It's important that he speak to the party, to say his final words and to pass the baton to John McCain,” said Tim Johnson, chairman of the Buncombe County Republicans.

It's a traditional farewell for the outgoing president, but it comes as the country is reeling from seven years of war and a sinking economy.

Bush's approval ratings are below 30 percent.

The satellite feed is just one more example of how McCain must balance loyalty to a two-term Republican president while offering himself as someone different.

“There's an acknowledged disapproval rating, so he doesn't want to tie himself too closely,” said Jim Lee, a delegate and real estate developer from Clayton, near Raleigh. “But on the other hand, I think McCain will have the backbone to stand up where he thinks Bush was right.”

Every day this week, N.C. delegates' buses, en route to the convention hall, pass a billboard showing Bush and McCain embracing.

That is the last sort of image McCain wants, said delegate Joe Morgan, a former professor from the Western North Carolina town of Marshall.

“He will not be seen with the president so as not be seen in the negative images of the public,” Morgan said. “He'll stay away from him physically, and more important, he'll stay away because he'll have different ideas.”

Those differences, delegates said, are what voters will see in McCain – who, they point out, has tangled with Bush before.

“John McCain is his own man,” said former state Rep. Art Pope of Raleigh. “He had a very vigorous primary with George Bush eight years ago.”

Bill Peaslee of Raleigh, a former chief of staff for the N.C. Republican Party, said many delegates are irked at the Bush administration's high-spending ways. He thinks Americans are, too, but that they won't be wrongly influenced by Bush's appearance Tuesday.

“The average American voter is savvy enough to realize there are differences between President Bush and John McCain on policy issues,” Peaslee said.

Giving the sitting president a chance to speak is basic courtesy, said N.C. GOP Chairwoman Linda Daves.

“Whatever the approval ratings are, that's an American tradition,” she said. “You show respect to the commander-in chief.”

Larry Sellers, a delegate from Denver, N.C., agreed, despite his disappointment with Bush's presidency.

“I want (Bush) to go,” he said. “But I want to hear him. Even if Clinton, who I despise, was speaking, I'd want to hear the president of the United States.”

Many delegates don't think McCain will have difficulty moving away from Bush's record.

After all, said John Aneralla of Charlotte, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to the Democratic convention on Obama's behalf, and Congress has an even lower approval rating than Bush.